Best of Both Worlds podcast: Weekends (especially with toddlers)

Sarah and I have talked about weekends before on the Best of Both Worlds podcast, but it’s always a topic of interest. So we decided to revisit it!

As with many things pertaining to time, weekends are different for people with small children vs. people without small children (or people who have small children but magically don’t seem to be doing much of the hovering required to keep them from sticking forks in their eyes; we can all ponder what is going on in those families…)

For the required hovering to be equitably split, families really need to talk through the weekend ahead of time. Yet another argument for planning!

We both talk about what a “good” weekend looks like for us. I like a date night, a long run, and a family adventure somewhere (visiting the cherry blossoms, a zoo trip, whatever). I sing in my church choir most Sunday mornings. Sarah also likes her date nights and workouts. They tend to eat out as a family at least one night. Because G is in the toddler stage (16.5 months) they are very careful to use nap time wisely.

My weekends are definitely starting to change as the kids get older. The 4-year-old still gets up early, so there isn’t much sleeping in but he is a little bit more trustworthy than in the past. This is an exciting development!

We are both fans of compressing (or getting rid of, if possible) chores and errands. Setting a window for these things, or for work projects, allows you to relax the rest of the time (or as much as one can relax with little kids…)

This week’s listener question comes from a woman who is newly back from maternity leave. She worked from home when her baby had a fever one day. I should note (which I didn’t in the episode, but maybe our listeners understood this) that over the long run it’s important to have back-up coverage for when kids get sick, and you can’t work without childcare daily, but with a baby who probably naps twice during the day, someone working from home could certainly get some chunk of the job done. The situation is different with toddlers (see above) though again, in a pinch, there could be iPads and an afternoon nap. In any case, she thought all went fine and she got her work done but then her manager did an about-face and said the second time this happened that she needed to take PTO. She noted that she was excellent at her job, much of which could be done flexibly and remotely (e.g. on a sick day do some during naps, do the rest in the evening), but her manager seemed to be old school and didn’t want to set a precedent.

Our listener had basically talked herself into looking for a new job by the end of the question — which is definitely an option — but we mentioned other options too. If her manager is worried about a precedent, she could suggest rules that would limit people’s ability to work from home. We could argue about the wisdom of this, but if it matters to him, then this could be a starting point. Maybe work-from-home privileges could be limited to people who had excellent performance ratings, or who had been with the company for 3 years. Maybe there could be an annual limit on such days. But we noted that the manager might wind up learning a lesson here — our listener will find a new job and her manager will be stuck training someone who may not be as productive as her, even with her covering the occasional baby sick day. Hopefully he will have the self-knowledge to learn from this experience.

Please give the episode a listen! And let me know — what does a good weekend look like for you?

17 thoughts on “Best of Both Worlds podcast: Weekends (especially with toddlers)

  1. I struggle tremendously with weekends. I have this mental picture of what a weekend “should” be. The kids shouldn’t fight. We should go for long walks, have fun playdates, eat good food, all with the backdrop of a clean house, of course. Ha. Sometimes the stars align and that happens, but there are usually several temper tantrums, a flu bug, or some other monkey wrench thrown in to the plans, as is wont to happen with small kids in the house.

    Up until very recently, I would longingly (and resentfully, I might add) remember a pre-children era when time off was really time off. Since a good chunk of my work is unpaid housework (cooking, cleaning, tending to children, managing the administrative duties of a household) and my paid work is also done at home, though my perception of weekends is that they should be relaxing, restorative, and centre around the bliss of being at home as a family, I find the opposite. I am drained from the energy it takes – the outings, the added mess and chaos.

    But, and there is a but…

    Little by little, as they get older and I start to look at working outside the home some more, I try to assign the psychological role of weekend (quiet time, self-care, adventure, productivity) with another day of the week. Friday my daughter is in school, my son is in preschool, and I have the flexibility (and luxury) of attending a Mom’s coffee hour. For a long time I was using those hours to prepare for the weekend – cooking, cleaning, doing laundry in advance, but now recognize that in my current role as a stay-at-home-work-from-home-mom, that I need to drop my illusions of what a weekend “should” be, embrace what I do have, and make the necessary accommodations (Off the Clock was tremendously helpful with this; I’m currently rereading it and being motivated to “Plan it in. Do it anyway.”). And then, and this is key – and I’m still learning, relearning, slowly – to NOT feel guilty about it.

    1. I have a similar experience – weekends are the most challenging days of the week for me. It’s two days in a row with zero out-of-the-house childcare, and although my husband can take on some responsibilities, his own (work + personal) needs for the weekend are variable and often significant. I cope by trying to set aside time on Friday to rest and relax and on Monday to catch up on housework and other projects. Then during the weekend I can focus on enjoying time with my family rather than getting frustrated at all the things I’m not getting done.

      With a toddler, it’s also critical to use naptime well. A good nap break sets the tone for a good afternoon, and a bad one spells disaster. I know Laura doesn’t approve of using naptime for chores but, for me, spending half an hour cleaning up from the morning, folding laundry, and figuring out dinner can go a long way toward a happier mood a few hours later. At night, those same tasks often seem twice as hard and take three times as long (and with a toddler running around they are basically impossible). And afterward I still (hopefully) have a solid hour to myself, which I find much easier to enjoy when I don’t have a mountain of dirty dishes leering at me and no idea what I’ll feed my kid when he wakes up.

      1. @Erica – you could just leave the dishes and wait for someone else to do them. I’m really curious about that word, “leering.” How are the dishes leering? They’re just sitting there. 🙂

        1. Who else will do them? Future Erica? Certainly not my kid…

          I think some of this depends on personal preference – whether you are bothered by physical disorder. Dirty dishes lying around is one thing that gets to me, and leaving them for longer tends to make the problem worse as food cakes on, milk left out goes bad, etc. Maybe I’m just not very good at keeping things tidy *during* the meal.

          I think, also, it can be a meditative practice. I listen to a podcast or an audiobook and put my home and my mind in order for the afternoon. It’s more productive (and less likely to drag on for the whole nap) than surfing the web.

          1. I completely agree, @Erica. I feel like the mess comes alive and taunts me.

            I also struggle with my expectations. When I have my kids or husband help me, I’m rarely satisfied with how they complete the task. I know that’s an issue on my end, but sometimes it is just easier to do it myself, on my timeline…but then I feel grumpy about it.


      2. It’s becoming a saying: “Laura doesn’t approve” 😂 to use whenever you choose not to do housework.

    2. I feel the same (resentment about « the good old days » included) and I also did this mindset shift. I keep low expectations for weekends. The only thing that really makes me consider that I had a good weekend is if I managed to sit down for at least 15 minutes, reading my magazine and drinking coffee uninterrupted. And I rather use my commute time during the week for the things I like (reading, listening to podcasts, watching series). I now accepted that it is going to be like that still for a couple of years and it is good to hear from others that there will be more possibilities for more exciting weekends later on. But yes, toddler years are hard! (Never said enough! ;-))

  2. My recipe: two workouts, fun social event of some kind with another family (dinner, park, etc), time reading a good book (or two), a walk with the dog, and a minimal amount of errands/groceries/cleaning. A date night is a nice bonus but that usually only happens once a month or so and thus isn’t part of our regular weekend fun recipe. Also during the non-winter months, doing as much of all this stuff as possible outside. Our kids are 5 and 6. I would say weekends went from being slightly dreaded to being actually fun around ages 2/3 and 3/4 and have steadily improved since then.

    1. @Emily – yep, crossing age 3 is pretty important, and I’d say that 4 is better. Outside is good. I’ve also been finding recently that my weekends are much better if I go in with a book I intend to read. It helps direct any downtime in a non-scrolling direction.

  3. Weekends can be a struggle for us, too. We have a 14-month little guy. He is a terrible napper and his naps are unpredictable so there isn’t a guaranteed break in the day. It helps to plan something during the weekend to break up the day, like right now I take him to swimming lessons on Saturday mornings. Have an activity that gets us out of the house makes a huge difference.

    I was listening to a podcast interview of Emily Oster, author of Cribsheet. She talked about how during a work day, your day is structured in a way that you get different things out of different hours – like the 7th hour of work can be just as fulfilling/productive as the first hour. But when you spend a full day with a young child, there’s kind of a law of diminishing returns and the 7th hour is not as enjoyable as the first hour. Instead it can be really draining to spend a full day, or a series of full days, with a young child. You still love and adore them and are thankful for them, but it can wear a person out. It was helpful to hear that as I sometimes feel super spent at the end of a weekend. It was nice to hear someone eloquently discuss the difference between a full day at work and a full day at home with a toddler! Emily Oster would be a great guest for you guys to have because she talks about the studies behind a decision to stay at home v work, and the choice of what child care is best (turns out there isn’t one best kind of childcare – it’s so dependent on what a family needs but hearing that takes some of the guilt out of the decision!).

    1. Yes! Emily Oster would be a great guest! Between her new book and her last one, she’d have lots of really relevant ideas for your listeners.

    2. Interesting… I tend to agree. For me the key point is that workdays are way more predictable. Especially with toddlers, they can change habits every couple of months and you constantly have to reinvent routines. My daughter is 17 months old and she is now transitioning to only taking one nap a day. On Saturday she did not want to sleep in the morning and i thought she would then make a solid nap in the afternoon. She was down for barely 45 min. On Sunday, total opposite. She slept for 1:30 in the morning, then nothing in the afternoon. And it is really hard to fit it what needs to be done. The only solution I found so far is just to break down chores in smaller tasks and do a bit when I have time (kids play quietly or my husband can take over).

  4. Just a note about Disney cruise Verandahs – I actually highly recommend and found them quite safe. They are fully plexi-glassed and I didn’t think twice about my kids going over – I think the plexiglass is taller and doesn’t have breaks to use as leverage for climbing but can’t recall exactly. We’ve been on 4 cruises (no kids with family, 1 x 15 mo, 1 x 3y and 8 mo, 1x almost 4 and almost 1) and had portholes for all but the 3rd cruise and I lived our verandah. Mostly because my pain point for vacationing with kids this age is sleep time – especially when a kid takes 2 naps a day and has to go to bed at 8:30 because they wake up earlier than usual (6:30 for us on vacation.) It was so nice for whoever was in charge of the sleepers to be able to go out on the verandah and not just be stuck in a dark room trying to be quiet. The doors do have standard balcony lock mechanisms and I felt they were quite safe.

  5. I needed to hear this episode! Weekends with little kids ARE tough, and I have not been acknowledging that enough. My husband and I both work full-time out of the home, and I find myself putting pressure on the weekends to be this *magical family fun time* — an expectation that is not entirely realistic with a 2-year-old and 6-month-old. I am very into planning our weekends, but we are currently in a pattern of 24/7 total togetherness, and it is wearing me out.

    So, I am rethinking what an ideal weekend looks like and am planning to take some time out of the house to myself this weekend. Fingers crossed for a joint nap or two also!

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